Commentary Magazine


Topic: station chief

The Deprofessionalization of Spying

I don’t agree with everything former CIA officer Robert Baer writes, but his GQ article about the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan is an interesting and compelling read. According to Baer, the essential problem was that the CIA station chief in Khost did not have much field experience. She was a reports officer who spent most of her time in Washington. Given the opportunity to run a purported al-Qaeda mole, she disregarded basic security procedures and allowed a Jordanian double agent to blow up herself and her entire team. Baer, who spent 21 years in the Clandestine Service, claims that basic tradecraft was violated, “the most inexplicable error” being to have the double agent met by a committee — “informants should always be met one-on-one. Always.” He concludes that there is an institutional failure here — one that traces back to the 1990s, when John Deutch was director of CIA and devalued covert operators at the expense of analysts and other bookish types.  He concludes:

If we take Khost as a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA, the deprofessionalization of spying, it’s tempting to consider that the agency’s time has passed. “Khost was an indictment of an utterly failed system,” a former senior CIA officer told me. “It’s time to close Langley.”

I’m not prepared to go quite that far. The United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.) But the CIA—and especially the directorate of operations—must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field. And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience—the kind it upheld with great success in the past. If it doesn’t, we’re going to see a lot more Khosts.

That sounds right to me. Since 9/11, the CIA has been greatly expanded, but has it been greatly improved? The evidence, of which the Khost bombing is the last example, suggests serious deficiencies that the agency, as currently constituted, may be incapable of addressing. For my part, I’ve suggested in the past that we revive the OSS — a civil-military outfit with a gung-ho spirit, little bureaucracy, and few rules that can focus on the war against terror while leaving lesser priorities (e.g., conducting economic espionage to help our trade negotiators) to someone else.

I don’t agree with everything former CIA officer Robert Baer writes, but his GQ article about the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan is an interesting and compelling read. According to Baer, the essential problem was that the CIA station chief in Khost did not have much field experience. She was a reports officer who spent most of her time in Washington. Given the opportunity to run a purported al-Qaeda mole, she disregarded basic security procedures and allowed a Jordanian double agent to blow up herself and her entire team. Baer, who spent 21 years in the Clandestine Service, claims that basic tradecraft was violated, “the most inexplicable error” being to have the double agent met by a committee — “informants should always be met one-on-one. Always.” He concludes that there is an institutional failure here — one that traces back to the 1990s, when John Deutch was director of CIA and devalued covert operators at the expense of analysts and other bookish types.  He concludes:

If we take Khost as a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA, the deprofessionalization of spying, it’s tempting to consider that the agency’s time has passed. “Khost was an indictment of an utterly failed system,” a former senior CIA officer told me. “It’s time to close Langley.”

I’m not prepared to go quite that far. The United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.) But the CIA—and especially the directorate of operations—must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field. And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience—the kind it upheld with great success in the past. If it doesn’t, we’re going to see a lot more Khosts.

That sounds right to me. Since 9/11, the CIA has been greatly expanded, but has it been greatly improved? The evidence, of which the Khost bombing is the last example, suggests serious deficiencies that the agency, as currently constituted, may be incapable of addressing. For my part, I’ve suggested in the past that we revive the OSS — a civil-military outfit with a gung-ho spirit, little bureaucracy, and few rules that can focus on the war against terror while leaving lesser priorities (e.g., conducting economic espionage to help our trade negotiators) to someone else.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

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